Today is the International Day of the Girl Child.
The UN theme this year is ‘Ending Child Marriage.’ According to Choices for Girls campaign by Plan every three seconds, somewhere in the world, a girl is forced into marriage. Child marriage denies a girl of her childhood, disrupts her education, limits opportunities, and increases the possibility of her becoming a victim of violence and abuse. In most developing countries, even the girls who are not forced into marriage have very limited opportunities and are mostly expected to stay at home and do domestic work. Thirteen-year-old girl, Bintou, from Mali tells the ‘Choices for Girls’ campaign that, “I would choose manhood if I could.”
Education is a key factor in eliminating child marriage. Unfortunately, in more than 100 countries around the world school is not free and parents often choose to invest in their son’s education rather than their daughters. According to CNN only 30% of girls worldwide are enrolled in secondary school, and fewer young females are literate.
Statistics highlight the importance of education. A girl with seven years of education will usually marry four years later and have less children. A girl with basic education is less likely to contract HIV, and only one year of extra school will increase a girl’s future earnings by 10-20%.
Singer Shakira is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and this year she has spent time in Rajasthan, India, promoting girls’ education. Rajasthan has one of the highest numbers of child marriage in India: more than half of the girls are married before the age of 18. Although child marriage is not legal in India, it is still a bit part of the local culture. “Sometimes we can’t fight culture, but we can fight poverty,” Shakira says in a UNICEF interview.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon sends a message for 2012:
“Education for girls is one of the best strategies for protecting girls against child marriage. When they are able to stay in school and avoid being married early, girls can build a foundation for a better life for themselves and their families.
I urge Governments, community and religious leaders, civil society, the private sector, and families – especially men and boys, to promote the rights of girls. Let us be guided by the theme of today’s observance – “my life, my right, end child marriage” – and let us do our part to let girls be girls, not brides.”